The Fifties

By Chelsea Mageland


Kinsey Report. Picture taken from

Leading up to the 1950’s the United States had more conservative and traditional views, although change was on its way in (Johnson, 1997).  In 1948, Dr. Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,  and later in 1954 came it’s counterpart,  Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.  Each of these were compiled of thousands of interviews with American people and presented some shocking statistics for the time period:  68-90% of males and almost 50%  of females had premarital sex, 92% of males and 62% of females had at some point masturbated, and 37% of males and 13% of females had engaged in homosexual intercourse (Johnson, 1997). It also suggested that 50% of men and 26% of women had cheated on their spouse.  Not only does this tell us about the sexual activities that were actually occurring despite the “moral” ideals being portrayed by society, but it also gives us insight that relationships may not have been so strong or committed if the adultery rate was so high.  This may also suggest that relationships may have not been based on love, but for other reasons such as seeking stability, or fulfilling the traditional expectation of getting married.

The display of sexuality in America was very controversial to some, although the fact that it was becoming more prevalent in the media shows that there were also people that encouraged its presence.  The late 1950’s brought along many films with more diversive storylines.   Island in the Sun (1957), portrayed interracial sexual relationships, Compuslsion (1958), put homosexuality in the spotlight, and Blue Denim (1959),included abortion in the plot line (Johnson, 1997).  Sexuality and other issues surrounding sex (e.g. abortion) were no longer completely sensored in the media.

Playboy also appeared in the 1950s (Johnson, 1997), which brought soft-porn to a greater population of Americans.  This illustrates the new acceptance of sexual media, and it also depicts the ways women were portrayed, and how they could present themselves in a more sexualized way.  

By the end of this decade, “girlie magazines” had become very popluar, and this brought about a more equal view towards men and women engaging in sexual activity; the old-fashioned double standard that men may engage in sexual activities, but women should not was no longer tolerated (Parks, 2005).  There was a greater request for contraceptives and coed dorms from college kids during this time as well.  A lot of what occured during this time is still present today.

The idea of how a man and a woman should behave, and their roles in the home and society were very clear during the 1950’s.  The stereotypical 1950’s housewife is often referenced in today’s culture when we think about women’s role as being extremely domesticated and controlled by her husband. It’s something that comes to mind when we hear things like benevolent sexism, or even in some cases hostile sexism.  Here is a picture from a magazine in the 1950’s:



Johnson, P. (1997).  A history of the american people.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Parks, L. J. (2005).  Human Sexuality [PDF document].  Retrieved from

Retro Housewife (2006).  The good wife’s guide.  Retrieved from:

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